Watch out for falling satellite

If you see this thing plummeting down on you Friday afternoon, we’ll help you account for it:



Here is the forecast as of Thursday evening:

While North America appears to be off the hook, scientists are scrambling to pinpoint exactly where and when a dead NASA climate satellite will plummet back to Earth on Friday. The 6-ton, bus-sized satellite is expected to break into more than a hundred pieces as it plunges through the atmosphere, most of it burning up.

But if you’re hoping for a glimpse, the odds are slim. Most sightings occur by chance because the re-entry path can’t be predicted early enough to alert people, said Canadian Ted Molczan, who tracks satellites for a hobby. . . .

The best guess so far is that the 20-year-old Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will hit sometime on Friday afternoon Eastern time. The latest calculations indicate that it will not be over the United States, Canada and Mexico during that time. Until Thursday, every continent but Antarctic was a potential target. Predicting where and when the freefalling satellite will land is an imprecise science, but officials should be able to narrow it down a few hours ahead.

While most of the satellite pieces will disintegrate, 26 large metal chunks – the largest about 300 pounds – are expected to survive, hit and scatter somewhere on the planet. With nearly three-quarters of the world covered in water, chances are that it will be a splashdown. . . .

The odds of someone somewhere on Earth getting struck by the NASA satellite are 1 in 3,200. But any one person’s odds are astronomically lower – 1 in 21 trillion.

via Falling satellite likely to miss North America – CBS News.

UPDATE:  The satellite apparently came down in the Pacific Ocean, near the west coast. See. Once again you worried about something but nothing happened.

Why our foreign relations are in such bad shape

President Obama at a meeting of world leaders at the UN:

Preaching assurance vs. preaching doubt

I have noticed that there are two kinds of preachers, especially when addressing young people: One kind tries to assure the listeners of their salvation in Christ, underscoring His grace and mercy and His atoning work on the Cross. The other kind tries to make the listeners question whether they are “really” Christians. (“Did you REALLY give your life to the Lord? Do you show the fruit of true faith? Does your life show evidence of true conversion? Maybe you need to commit your life to him again, just to be sure.”)

Granted the problem of nominal Christianity. And granted the need to make people realize how sinful they are so as to help them grasp their need of the Gospel. But I would argue that the latter approach can do great harm. The one thing that DOES make a Christian is faith in Christ. Doubt is the opposite of faith. To make a person doubt his or her salvation is, ironically, to destroy faith, rather than to build it up. Furthermore, these “are you really a Christian” messages have the effect of making the hearers look within, at their good works or their feelings or their piety or whatever. Surely, whenever we look honestly at ourselves we will find nothing to commend ourselves before God. Rather, what needs to happen is to encourage troubled or doubting souls to look OUTSIDE themselves to the Cross of Jesus and the promises of God’s Word, to objective facts about God’s disposition towards them (“Did God cause you to be baptized? Have you taken the Lord’s Supper and heard the words “given for you”?)

I wonder if the attempts to scare young people into greater piety may be having the opposite effect.

Should Obama run for re-election?

Steven Chapman, editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune, calls upon President Obama not to run for re-election, to make way instead for a candidate associated with toughness and prosperity, namely, iHillary Clinton:

The vultures are starting to circle. Former White House spokesman Bill Burton said that unless Obama can rally the Democratic base, which is disillusioned with him, “it’s going to be impossible for the president to win.” Democratic consultant James Carville had one word of advice for Obama: “Panic.”

But there is good news for the president. I checked the Constitution, and he is under no compulsion to run for re-election. He can scrap the campaign, bag the fundraising calls and never watch another Republican debate as long as he’s willing to vacate the premises by Jan. 20, 2013.

That might be the sensible thing to do. It’s hard for a president to win a second term when unemployment is painfully high. If the economy were in full rebound mode, Obama might win anyway. But it isn’t, and it may fall into a second recession — in which case voters will decide his middle name is Hoover, not Hussein. Why not leave of his own volition instead of waiting to get the ax? . . . .

In the event he wins, Obama could find himself with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress. Then he will long for the good old days of 2011. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner will bound out of bed each day eager to make his life miserable.

Besides avoiding this indignity, Obama might do his party a big favor. In hard times, voters have a powerful urge to punish incumbents. He could slake this thirst by stepping aside and taking the blame. Then someone less reviled could replace him at the top of the ticket.

The ideal candidate would be a figure of stature and ability who can’t be blamed for the economy. That person should not be a member of Congress, since it has an even lower approval rating than the president’s.

It would also help to be conspicuously associated with prosperity. Given Obama’s reputation for being too quick to compromise, a reputation for toughness would be an asset.

As it happens, there is someone at hand who fits this description: Hillary Clinton. Her husband presided over a boom, she’s been busy deposing dictators instead of destroying jobs, and she’s never been accused of being a pushover.

via Steve Chapman: Why Obama should withdraw –

Democrats, would you just as soon President Obama didn’t run?  Republicans, would you rather he didn’t run?  Independents?

And isn’t it true that despite his low popularity ratings and the tanking economy that polls have him  STILL beating Perry, Romney, and any other of the Republican candidates?  How do you account for that?

Europe’s problem and our problem

Economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson gives a good explanation of what’s going on in the European economy:

Europe’s banking crisis — and “crisis” is used advisedly — tells us how much and how little has changed since the onset of global financial turmoil in September 2008. Then, people worried about the viability of major American banks, loaded with “toxic” mortgage-backed securities whose value was difficult to determine. Now, people worry about major European banks, loaded with government (a.k.a. “sovereign”) bonds whose value is difficult to determine. We are flirting with another financial crisis not unlike the post-Lehman Brothers panic.

So American financial institutions were pulled down because of bad loans on houses.  European institutions are on the verge of being pulled down because of bad loans on whole countries.

Read the column for the details:   Is another financial crisis looming in Europe? – The Washington Post.

Drones that kill on their own

On the horizon of military technology:  Drones that “decide” on their own whom to kill:

One afternoon last fall at Fort Benning, Ga., two model-size planes took off, climbed to 800 and 1,000 feet, and began criss-crossing the military base in search of an orange, green and blue tarp.

The automated, unpiloted planes worked on their own, with no human guidance, no hand on any control.

After 20 minutes, one of the aircraft, carrying a computer that processed images from an onboard camera, zeroed in on the tarp and contacted the second plane, which flew nearby and used its own sensors to examine the colorful object. Then one of the aircraft signaled to an unmanned car on the ground so it could take a final, close-up look.

Target confirmed.

This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial “Terminators,” minus beefcake and time travel.

The Fort Benning tarp “is a rather simple target, but think of it as a surrogate,” said Charles E. Pippin, a scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which developed the software to run the demonstration. “You can imagine real-time scenarios where you have 10 of these things up in the air and something is happening on the ground and you don’t have time for a human to say, ‘I need you to do these tasks.’ It needs to happen faster than that.”

The demonstration laid the groundwork for scientific advances that would allow drones to search for a human target and then make an identification based on facial-recognition or other software. Once a match was made, a drone could launch a missile to kill the target. . . .

Research into autonomy, some of it classified, is racing ahead at universities and research centers in the United States, and that effort is beginning to be replicated in other countries, particularly China.

“Lethal autonomy is inevitable,” said Ronald C. Arkin, the author of “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots,” a study that was funded by the Army Research Office.

Arkin believes it is possible to build ethical military drones and robots, capable of using deadly force while programmed to adhere to international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement. He said software can be created that would lead machines to return fire with proportionality, minimize collateral damage, recognize surrender, and, in the case of uncertainty, maneuver to reassess or wait for a human assessment.

In other words, rules as understood by humans can be converted into algorithms followed by machines for all kinds of actions on the battlefield.

via A future for drones: automated killing – The Washington Post.

The article alludes to “ethical” and “legal” issues that need to be worked out with this particular technology.  Like what?  Is automating war to this extent a good idea?  Does this remove human responsibility and guilt for taking a particular human life?  Might this kind of technology develop, eventually, into a military without actual human beings in overt combat?  How could this be abused?